by Bill Frist
Russian-U.S. relations are complicated and, at times, trying. But since we share a commitment to improve the health of our citizens, there is much we can learn through dialogue and collaboration. And there is no better place to do so than Tennessee, the heart of health-service delivery innovation.
Even at the height of the Cold War, U.S. and Russian scientists collaborated closely to eradicate polio and smallpox. Similar collaboration can lead to mutual benefit for today’s shared challenges, chronic disease and obesity, with a byproduct of improved diplomacy. Collaborations on health-service delivery in Tennessee between Russian and U.S. doctors are a powerful example of health diplomacy and a valuable currency for trust and understanding.
Russia has more doctors, health-care workers and hospitals than most countries, but standards remain variable. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has committed $16 billion over two years to bolster working conditions, training, and national electronic health records with a promise to trim bureaucracy.
The Washington-based Open World Leadership Center invited 30 health professionals from Kirov State, Russia, to come to the U. S., specifically to Tennessee, to study and explore financing, organization and delivery of health infrastructure and services.
The Russian delegation spent a day in Washington to better understand how health policy is formulated at the federal level and to visit the National Institutes of Health. They then came to Tennessee for a week, spending time in Memphis, focusing on research, and in Knoxville, focusing on rural health delivery.
The visit culminated in Nashville, where they observed firsthand our $70 billion global health-care industry. Hosts Nashville Health Care Council and Hope Through Healing Hands welcomed the travelers to the “Silicon Valley” of health care.
Industry leaders citywide opened their doors with sessions on medical simulation at Vanderbilt and HIV research by Meharry. The group also received an inside look at the public health sector’s progress on making communities healthier from state Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Metro Public Health Director Dr. Bill Paul. The day concluded with global disease-management leader Healthways, and focused on the company’s work to improve well-being through prevention.
Most valuable, however, was the opportunity to hear what the delegates found most applicable to their home. Among them were the development of IT for unified e-records, logistics for emergency services, and the great benefit of community volunteerism.
As the U.S. and Russia attempt to address growing health demands, we have much to learn from each other. Collaboration, using health as a currency for peace, will mean healthier societies, better diplomacy and improved bilateral relationships between our nations.
Sen. William H. Frist is a nationally recognized heart and lung transplant surgeon and former majority leader in the U.S. Senate.